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If You Want to Grow, Do Nothing

Close your eyes and picture someone you know well, perhaps your mother or your spouse. I’m betting you had the picture in an instant and that you could see every detail.

Now, try and describe that person using words, as if to a police sketch artist. It’s much harder now, isn’t it?

The brain is a remarkable instrument. I can’t begin to tell you how it works; no one can. Not really. People who have done nothing but study the brain during the entirety of their professional careers, and have stood on the shoulders of giants doing it, can only explain bits and pieces.

What we do know is that different parts of the brain are responsible for completely different, if complimentary, functions. Betty Edwards, author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, explained that:

We often can’t draw because we’re blocked from seeing what’s right in front of us. What blocks us is our preconceived notions about what a human hand or leg or eye should look like. We struggle, trying to draw what we assume we’ll see – instead of seeing what’s actually there.

The left side of your brain sees the entirety of the person you’re trying to picture, right down to her penchant for wry sarcasm or the twinkle in her eye. The right side of your brain sees angles and curves – the details of what’s right in front of you.

So much of what’s involved in running a company has been labeled “right-brained,” involving the things that are right in front of you. The left brain, we are told, sees the bigger picture, beyond the angles and curves. While I can’t speak to the truth of the right brain/left brain theory, I do know that when I’m sitting at my desk, the part of my brain that focuses on details is on duty. But when I’m driving home, or in the shower, or walking my dog, well, that’s another story.

When do your best ideas percolate to the surface? I’m betting the answer is not “while I’m at my desk.” The fact is that really groundbreaking, shatter-the-mold ideas do not come on command.

So here’s my recommendation: If you want to grow your business, schedule some time around nothing:

  • Once a quarter, take a three-day weekend and spend the time outside of work and away from home. You don’t have to go to the Bahamas, a cabin in the woods will do. Leave your laptop at home. Bring a pad instead (and not the “i” kind).
  • Schedule a few no-agenda coffees or lunches with people, not because they’re customers, but because you like the way they think.
  • Drive home the long way.

For all of my work on the details, and believe me, there’s nothing like a law practice to guarantee you your share of details, what has been the most responsible for the creation of the things I’m most proud of has been … nothing.